The Incoming Class

Every year I check out the work of Tom McBride and Ron Nief of Beloit College who release a Mindset List with clues pointing to the worldview that shapes the incoming class of 2016. The list helps me to begin thinking through the cross cultural challenge of ministering to college cadets at The Citadel – and it reminds me that we’re not in Kansas (or Canterbury) anymore!

For example, they explain that the incoming college class of 2016:

was born the year of the professional baseball strike and the last year for NFL football in Los Angeles. They have spent much of their lives helping parents understand that you don’t take pictures on “film” and that CDs and DVDs are not “tapes.” In these students’ lifetimes, with MP3 players and iPods, they seldom listen to the car radio. A quarter of the entering students already have suffered some hearing loss. Since they’ve been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16-cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.


And here are some of the 75 thought-provoking things that this year’s 18-year-olds “know,” according to McBride and Nief:

  • They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
  • Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker’s long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
  • They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”
  • They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.
  • There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.
  • Mr. Burns has replaced J. R. Ewing as the most shot-at man on American television.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has always been officially recognized with clinical guidelines.
  • They watch television everywhere but on a television.

Chris Castaldo of The Gospel Coalition pointed me to #3 on the incoming class of 2016 mindset list which is slightly more disturbing—No. 3: “The biblical sources of terms such as ‘Forbidden Fruit,’ ‘The writing on the wall,’ ‘Good Samaritan,’ and ‘The Promised Land’ are unknown to most of them.”

As a church planter, in Boulder, Colorado, I’ve seen this before – but this is the first year that I’ve seen it with college freshmen. One recently asked me, “Are Jesus and that Adam guy you talked about, brothers?”   And, no, I don’t think he had a highly theological distinction hidden in his question.

We have a Gospel problem – and it doesn’t just include our natural cultural gap between adults and incoming college freshmen. Our problem is a rising tide of Biblical illiteracy. Every year I get a list of the incoming Episcopal freshmen to The Citadel – and I have yet to meet one of them that can explain the Gospel in a simple way. They are ready to acolyte, read scripture, serve at Eucharist – but they don’t know in any discernable way, the main points of the Gospel.

I bring this up because it’s easy to pick on the “godless professors” – without coming smack into the reality that we might be contributing to the problem with some illiterate kids! Not surprising since Time notes, “Only half of U.S. adults know the title of even one Gospel. Most can’t name the Bible’s first book. The trend extends even to evangelicals.”

As Castaldo (from whom I’ve liberally copied) goes on to say, “But the main point of this article is not to get us to wring our hands. It’s to open our minds. To what?

Only this: We who seek to be agents of gospel renewal have twin challenges. We must not only know God’s Word ourselves, but we must also know our audience. We must be able not just to exegete and interpret Scripture, but apply it to the hearts and minds of our hearers. And we should take nothing for granted.

The latest Mindset List reminds us how cultures influence people’s thoughts, assumptions, and worldviews. We need to not only get into our books, but into their cultures. What moves them, excites them, interests them, and bores them? What do they know, and what don’t they know? How do we translate the Bible into terms they can understand?”

Reaching today’s college students is a huge missionary task – just as reaching any generation or people is! With God’s help, we can do it! And, with some creativity, listening, and study – we can join with what God is already doing to bring these students into His Kingdom. And we’re off!! Like a rocket! Thank you for your gift of (INSERT DATE and AMOUNT info)! Your investment in St. Alban’s Chapel is an amazing gift that I so appreciate! Below is an article that I recently wrote that you might enjoy – and should give you plenty to pray for!